I needed a pharmacist for the clinic and they were hard to find. Pharmacists, generally, can make a good living in the capitalist economy but institutional pharmacists do not. And institutions in skid row had even less appeal for them, even fresh young graduates needing experience. I hired a guy called Ahkbar. He was a young Ugandan refugee with the right credentials who was an arrogant, puke of a human being but I had little choice. It was either the Ugandan snot or the pharmacy could not function.
Over the next year Ahkbar managed to alienate just about everyone in the clinic and even the down and out patients of the area. He was rude, insulting, dismissive and beyond prejudicial. He openly disdained all of us, patients and staff alike, for being sub-par human beings while he was, in his own mind, just a notch below a god. That he was handsome in an Omar Sharif kind of way just made it worse. I detested the puke.
During his time with us, Ahkbar boasted that his stint as a pharmacist was just temporary and that, as soon as his family’s money was recovered from Uganda, he was going back to school to become a doctor, a position more worthy of his gifts. When he left a year or so later, it was an amicable parting- we were both happy to see the last of each other.
A few years later, I was in physio therapy trying to make my knee work again after major surgery. I was in St Pauls. One day Ahkbar walked by and, seeing me, came over and inquired after my health and made pleasant. It was a bit of a shock but at first I wrote it off to a guy getting what he wanted and was then, as he predicted, a doctor and, presumably enjoying the status he felt he so richly deserved.
But Ahkbar made a point of finding out my physio schedule and, further, visited me repeatedly. I enjoyed his visits. He was caring and interesting and remarkably likable. Finally, I asked how it was that he seemed to have so changed. Was it me? Or had he actually changed?
“I think the change you see is me, David. I am different. And I am glad to be different. In fact, I owe you and the clinic an apology. I was not a good employee. Please forgive me.”
That was quickly dispensed with because I wanted to know what happened.
“Before I entered medical school my parents thought it a good idea that I visit my homeland and my relatives. And so they sent me to India. I honestly do not know if I am actually Indian or Pakistani because the village I went to was in the north and virtually on the border of the two countries. It makes no difference. We had to hike for three days and two nights to get to the village. I had to dress in rags and wear rope sandals n case we were caught. We had to hide from Indian and Pakistani police and their army patrols because neither believed we were worthy of even living, let alone being there. It was terrifying.
“But when I got to the village it was life changing. It was surreal. It felt like science fiction at first. I could hardly believe what I was seeing. Everyone in the village of just over a hundred people looked exactly like my brothers, cousins, parents and family. Everyone. I saw people who were virtually twins of not only my parents and my brothers and sisters but I also saw a couple of guys who looked exactly like me. Of course, there were very minor differences but, at first, I was sure that I had walked into a living nightmare. These people were poor, ignorant, uneducated and primitive in the extreme. But, at the same time, they were me. They were my family. There were, literally, my family. We were the same!
” I must have cried every night I was there. My entire sense of who I was was just based on good luck. I could just as easily be one of them. I was one of them. But they were kind, generous, accepting and they wanted nothing from me but to accept their love and to receive some in return. I felt so close to them, I loved them, I wanted to be with them and I wanted to be like them but I was ashamed of myself the entire time. I was so humbled and embarrassed, I swore that I would go back to Canada, become a doctor and go back to help them. And so I did.
“But they also showed me that it was not really about them. It was not about our family connection. I was a doctor and I had to help others, too. I am part of Médecins Sans Frontières, (Doctors Without Borders) now. I go back to that village but I also go to many other villages. Even other countries. It changed me. You were right all along. I was wrong.”
” I don’t know about my being right, Ahkbar. I am no longer there. Couldn’t take it anymore. But I am very glad to hear that story. It’s a great one. Thanks for telling me.”
“No worries. It’s my turn, anyway. Nice seeing you, too.”